Cheating is wrong. Or is it?

My friend – let’s call her Mary – has grown up in a very religious family, the kind of family that goes to church every Sunday, wears a crucifix necklace and doesn’t eat meat on Friday.

Ever since high school she has been pretty masculine – skirt hater, cool short hair icon, sport champion – but her appearance fitted her shy and casual personality in a perfect way, so back then I thought that her being so -lesbian-without-being-a-lesbian wasn’t weird at all. Short hair and pants were only more comfortable.

On the last year of high school she met a guy -let’s call him John – and they became a couple. Not a very well matched couple some may say, but they seemed happy, so I tried to link my bad feeling about their relationship to the fact that I didn’t like John, his unbearable Jesus talk and his sinless life (no drinking, no smoking, no laughing because Jesus was watching and apparently he didn’t like happy people).

When I asked Mary why she liked John, she told me that he understood her. When I asked her what she meant by that, she told me “You know, about that. That thing”.

That thing” was sex.

Mary was a virgin and she wanted remain such until marriage. Weird? I suppose not, If your family has filled your head with the idea of burning in hell for eternity.

Anyway, when Mary confessed to me that she was with John because of “that thing” I was perplexed. I mean, there had to be something else, right? People are not together because they like the same bean label, people are together because they find each other hot, sweet, cool, interesting and unique in the world, and yeah, the understanding part is important, but can it really be the only basis for a long term relationship?

I wasn’t so sure, but Mary was sure enough for both of us, so I just stepped back and let her do whatever she wanted.

During the third year of University, a girl – let’s call her Emily – , entered in our life. Emily is probably the most out-and-proud lesbian I’ve ever met. She was (and still is, but luckily not that much) all rainbow flags, equality sign t-shirts and civil rights promotion, the kind of person that needs to tell people she is gay, even if it’s unnecessary (“Of course I watched Xena. I’m a lesbian! Duh?”).

Except for her out-obsessing behavior, Emily was the prototype of the girly-girl, always wearing skirts, nail polish and hills. Also, she was slutty (I’m sorry, Em, but you were slutty). If you were pretty, chapstick, lesbian and born between 1980 and 1992, you had once seen her bed for sure.

For some – at the time – surreal reason, Emily and Mary became friends.

John was very busy with his -let’s say- law tests, while Mary had a lot of free time. They started going out at parties, happy hours, beach trips, and, before I was able to notice what was going on, they were as close as Toodle Dum and Toodle Dee.

What was strange wasn’t their being close, but the way they were: Mary drove Emily home, Mary picked up the checks, Mary was jealous if someone dared to looked at her for a second too long. And then -surprise!- I realized that Emily hadn’t hooked up with anybody for, like, months.

Ok, maybe it was because there weren’t people she hadn’t gone out with left, but still: she was too single, too happy to be, too Mary-obsessed. At that point, I had to ask her.

Is there something going on between you and Mary?”

Mary and I? Are you kidding?”.

She wasn’t convincing. At all.

She has a boyfriend”

I know she does. I’m not an idiot, ok?”.

She actually was an idiot and she was in love with Mary. She didn’t tell me (of course), but she didn’t need to. I expected that everything was going to end up in a giant disaster, with broken hearts and broken friendships.

What I didn’t expect was Mary calling me to talk in the middle of the night and telling me, while we were sitting in my car, that she didn’t know what to do, because she was going to burn in hell forever. Because she’d had sex. Because she’d had sex with Emily.

Not only had she cheated on John, she had cheated on him with a girl.

And I asked:

How is that possible? You had remained a virgin for so long, and you liked him. You did, right?”.

Yes, she liked him. Of course she did, because John understood her, because John was nice and understanding. He was the perfect guy for the shy, clueless, prude and kind Mary, for the church girl that doesn’t eat meat on Friday and is going to have seven babies.

It’s not that I’m not that girl anymore” she told me “It’s that I’ve never been”.

She only knew a way of living – the way her parents had taught her- and she was sure that there weren’t any others.

I still think I’ll burn” she said “But I just don’t care anymore”

What are you gonna do?”

I’m telling John”.

She did. She told John that she was in love with Emily. As I predicted, there were broken hearts and broken friendship. I had to say that Mary’s was too.

Emily and her have being together for three years now and they are thinking of moving to Spain. They’d like to have children (maybe not seven) and Mary keeps believing in God (not in the burning part, although I’m not so sure).

What I’ve learned from this story is that life isn’t always as simple as our parents, the politicians, the teachers or the priest of our town church want us to believe: life is complicated and surprising, life needs us to be brave and make mistakes.

Cheating is wrong. Or is it? I’m not so sure it was for Mary.

If she hadn’t cheated on John, if she hadn’t slept with Emily, maybe she would have continued pretending that she was straight, that she loved John, that she was clueless and a prude, that she wanted seven babies and a husband. Or, maybe, she would have found somewhere else the courage to tell herself the truth.

It’s impossible to know, but what I do know is that that mistake brought her where she is today – and she is happy – and brought John where he is today – and he is happy too – .

Of course we can decide what is wrong and what is right (and if we use common sense, and I agree, cheating is wrong), but before applying the rule to every case we should remember that there are exceptions: sometimes a mistake could be the right thing to do.

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